I don’t even remember writing that last entry-I was very fatigued and confused and kind of in a state of shock, both culture shock and shock of trying to make alot of decisions very quickly about a situation that had happened in my absence.
I do remember that I was in a state of anger and frustration. I was also overwhelmed the first day as a dear friend died the day after I got back–he was a dog, but still a friend. I didn’t have the emotional energy to process that or anything else, really, as I had given alot of that away in Calcutta.
And that’s all changed as the days have gone by and I have had time to reflect on where I just was two weeks ago and what I was doing, and how those experiences have permanently altered my both my view of the world and my view of myself. Two weeks ago I was in Bihar, staying with some Muslim friends for about 6 days, trying to take a “vacation” from my Calcutta experiences, wearing full purdah in a tiny village and teaching kids at the Muslim school “Old Macdonald Had A Farm” in Urdu. And three weeks ago, I was living in the Daya Dan orphanage and running the boy’s floor, taking care of everything to taking kids to the hospital to comforting them in the middle of the night when they had nightmares.
The reality here is much, much, different!
It’s interesting how world travel changes you and gives added value to everything you do afterwards. Well, not just added value but also a sweeter perspective. At least for me, anyway.
I’ve met people who traveled and became cynical and ugly, always seeing the negative in humanity and somewhat hopeless about human nature and the problems we create both for ourselves and our planet by our drive to be important. And I’ve met people who walked out of the worst scenes imaginable–a ghetto in Guatemala City, a flooded village in indigenous lands in Panama, or the streets of a city like Calcutta, India, where everywhere one looks there are unspeakable tragedies and suffering– and some people walk out of those horrors saying to themselves, ” there is still goodness in the world and being here has helped me to discover what is most important in life and I am thankful for that.”
I fall into that last category.
In fact, for all of my pain and “suffering” I felt this past week and a half, part of me knew all along that it was not actually real pain, real suffering, but instead, just a wounded heart and hurt pride. And both of those are so small and insignificant in the larger scope of things, in comparasion to what is real suffering: watching your child die of malnutrition; having your home and all your possessions washed away; being forced to beg or live on the streets and sleep outside; dying a painful death of an unknown disease when you are just a child.
These things I have seen, many times, and that is what motivates me now to step outside outside of myself and realize that it is not the situation that I find myself in that is important, but only how I react to it that is important. It’s very important to me that I keep the energy that I have at this point in my life to stay on track with one of my major goals that has come out of this around the world trip, and that is:
To keep myself in alignment with the REALITIES of the world that are happening right now, to keep myself in place where I don’t forget what is really most important in life–which for me, is continuing to devote my life to the service of others.
And frankly, you can’t do that if you are sitting around feeling sorry for yourself!
So I’m looking at the whole experience of returning to somewhat of a messy and chaotic situation as an opportunity to gain further clarity on who I need to be so that when I leave this tiny planet some day and go where ever I go, I can leave with the confidence of knowing that the world was hopefully a better place because I was here. It’s a good lesson in humility and an excellent opportunity to take inventory and revisit what are my core values and make good choices on what is going to be next for me.
One thing people like about this blog is that it has always been written from an extremely personal point of view–almost like you are having a conversation with me, and I’m writing in my voice. That’s still the case, but in the current situation I find myself in, I don’t think much more about can be said, as talking about one’s personal life like that would compromise other people involved and that would be unethical.
So we’ll leave it at what I’ve said, and I’d now like to talk about the general impressions of coming home that I have at the moment .
My general impression of people and the environment and the country when I came home was that a terrible cynicism has crept into the culture–maybe it was always there, I don’t know. I guess I always saw it as isolated to individuals and not pervading the culture. But read any newspaper, or watch the news, and there it is, staring you in the face. I mean, people seem to have sort of a”controlled hopefulness”–in other words, you can be hopeful about this, because it’s pretty reasonable to assume it will go the way you want it to go; but you shouldn’t get your hopes up about this, that, or the other because it’s impossible.
I’ve noticed this especially in regards to things I’ve written about on my blog, things I have plans to do in the future–like adopting a child, or starting a charity or foundation for the indigenous tribe in Panama I worked with.
It’s as though people actually think things can’t be done.
Which is really, really weird for me, because I feel like I just came back from a place where it seemed like all was impossible and yet every single day, I saw things to prove otherwise. That combined with the fact that I have managed to accomplish my dream of going around the entire world, alone, as a woman, on basically the most shoe string of budgets, and working for good….well, obviously I’m coming from the point of view that everything is possible!
The thing that most shocked me about “coming home” was that people complain alot about everything. I noticed this first in the airport, then on the plane, then driving home, then in the grocery store, and so on. It’s like people here have so much that they just can’t seem to be happy with what they have.
I don’t just mean material things, I mean other things: like complaining about the economy; complaining about other people; complaining about the service one receives; complaining about politics. It’s like nothing ever seems good enough.
I don’t know, maybe this feeling of general contentment of mine will wear off at some point and I’ll start complaining about things too, but, it all seems so temporary to me. Don’t people realize how lucky they are, to have all these choices, to be in this country? I guess they don’t. Even the small things-like disagreements between people–just bring to mind, for me, how short life is, and how people waste alot of time not figuring that out until the very end. On my trip I saw alot of people wasting away due to poverty or illnesses, and they all had so much regret. Here, we have so much and yet we still aren’t content. It’s kind of surreal.
People talk alot about the economy, and how terrible it is, and how hard it is to get a job, and for a few days I let that creep in and influence me, and even today was on the fence about taking ajob someone offered me that was really not the right job, just due to some sort of weird panic. It’s contagious.
But then I reminded myself that I came from a country where the economy (what exists of it) is really just on paper, and life is actually very, very hard for almost everyone, and that what Americans are facing right now, well, it’s actually probably as it should be, as we were all living beyond our means. But that worry that comes along with it, that is not for me. I’ve been in much more difficult situations than this and managed just fine, and I’m sure I will here, too.
Which gets me to the next lesson I learned in India, which was to literally live in the moment. This is something I had attempted in the past before my trip but never really excelled at, and it’s wasn’t until literally forced to do so in India that I pulled it off at all. Even then it was a struggle against my Western upbringing and culture.
Being in the present moment is something that I have been able to do these past few days. It’s amazing to be able to look at situations and at everything going on around you from this perspective. It mean your conversations are more intense; and that for the first time you actually are truly listening to the people you are talking with; that you are enjoying the beautiful weather (such bright blue skies) ; that you enjoy everything, really, from the walk with the dog to the chat with the homeless guy on the sidewalk.
It’s all wonderful and interesting and it it all teaches you something.
Which gets me to the next thing that I’ve noticed about coming home.
I live in a tiny, tiny town, full of characters of all sorts. Everytime I see someone again, it’s as though I am seeing them for the very first time, listening to them for the very first time, experiencing them in a whole new way. And what’s most interesting about this is that I’ve reached the conclusion that I so socially limited myself in my community before that I literally think my friends and aquaintances numbered less than 100 people. And now, everyday I meet all the people I knew before, plus many, many more new people I never knew, and they are all amazing and interesting people, from every walk of life, and I want to be friends with every single one of them!
In India, the majority of my Indian friends were poor. Actually, most of the people I met along the way during this journey were poor people who happened to live wherever I was working at the time. And what that has taught me is that circumstances do not make the man. In other words, even in this country, people have opportunities or they don’t-and that doesn’t take away from their intelligence, creativity, or ability to contribute positively to the planet.
Maybe you are nodding your head in agreement, and saying to yourself, “well of course not!”
But the truth of the matter is, that even though I thought I had a open mind, and was open to all people–from those with a bunch of degrees to those just scraping by on a single welfare check–I really wasn’t.
I don’t really think we really are as open as we say we are in this country. We draw alot of lines between race and class, and just like India, we too have our own “Untouchable caste”. It doesn’t feel good to say that, but the truth rarely feels good.
It seems like we surround ourselves with people just like us, with our small group of interests, and we leave it at that. And we don’t reach out and get to know people that at first glance we think we have little in common with. But, one thing I’ve come to understand is that the outside of a person is just packaging, and its got little to do with who they are.
I think what really caused this change in me was working with severely disabled children, sometimes who couldn’t even speak; and working with extremely destitute dying people, both of whom are groups I did not have much–if any– contact with back at home.
These people gave me so many gifts and taught me so much about brotherly love that I feel like each of their faces is imprinted on my mind forever.
Everyday, my mind is filled with thoughts of them and thankfulness that I got to be with them; and this in turn makes me think of each person I meet in a completely new way.
So, one of the main things I have learned is that I am just a common person, who had the opportunity to do something extraordinary. But that doesn’t make me extraordinary, it make the world an extraordinary world for allowing me to participate in it in such an intense and wonderful way.
I think the last thing that has significantly changed for me is my spiritual life and how I relate that to all that I am experiencing. Before I left on my trip, I did try to have a spiritual life but I lacked the deepness of experience and I lacked, I think the ability to see myself for what I am, what I ought to be, and a belief in grace.
Coming home, after having crossed scary border crossings(what was I thinking!), gotten sick a hundred times with nasty things, been lonely, struggled against myself and governments and belief systems I did not understand, watched people die, watched people suffer….I can completely say, with no hesitation whatsoever,
That I do see myself for who I was, for who I’ve become, and that I have a sense of who I will be next.
That I know myself spiritually and that I am in a state of grace.
That there are many ways to know oneself, and many paths to take, and that it is my humble wish that everyone I know have the joy of knowing themselves deeply and spiritually someday.
I think living in India was an especially spiritual lesson for me–you’ve got thousands, millions of people all living together with hardly any breathing room, all believing different things and all trying to get along. I took note of this and I hope the rest of the world stops for a moment and takes note of it too.
There have been other small things to get used to–using a phone; getting used to privacy, hot water, real flushing toilets ; driving a car; talking daily to friends and family. It’s alot of interaction for someone who just came from working all the time, and I’m trying to take it slowly. Everyday, I try to go and do one social thing, and that seems just about right for me. But most of the time, I’m just trying to spend as much time with myself, trying to think things thru and decide what to do tomorrow. It’s kind of a one day at a time kind of pace right now.
The thing I am enjoying most about being back is spending as much time as possible with my dog and cat. They are extremely entertaining and their antics are endless. It’s such a pleasure to spoil them after being away for so long and after seeing all the starving animals around the world. We just take alot of dog walks and alot of cat naps together, I feel so blessed and grateful to have them.
In spite of how things went on my arrival home, I’m still glad I’m here. That was just a bump in the road and what is that saying people say? “This, too, shall pass.” I’m really keeping that in mind as I think about everything I have to be grateful for, and I’ve got so much, really,–so much more than most people–that I am content with that.
Where I live, Winters, California, I think..is..one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I love all of it. I love being there, and I love knowing, simply knowing, that I’ve come home.